Despite the Obama Administration’s attempts at health care “reform,” Americans are headed right back to the bad old days of unaffordable premiums. Despite President Obama’s recent assurances that rate increases will “come in significantly lower than what’s being expected,” private, profit-driven health insurers are requesting stiff premium increases – and state insurance commissioners are approving them.

Tennessee is just one example, where insurance commissioner Julie McPeak approved an increase of nearly 40% by Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Volunteer State’s largest health insurer. That was the largest increase approved, but insurers in several other states have received approval for rate increases ranging from 10-35%. According to regulators, these increases are necessary because of expensive claims from sicker customers who signed up under the ACA. Some insurers are claiming they are suffering losses.

The new increases will hit consumers starting November 1st.  Government subsidies will cushion the blow for those getting their coverage through the exchange, but ultimately, the taxpayers will be picking up the tab for exorbitant CEO salaries, corporate jets, shareholder dividends and everything else that goes with a privatized industry that ultimately puts profits over people. The one bright spot is that under the law, consumers are still protected from being charged higher premiums or being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. They can also switch to a different plan or company, though coverage varies.

The rate increases come just in time for the 2016 elections, and will be certain to be a campaign issue. Those on the right who have been opposed to “Obamacare” will be pointing fingers, saying “I told you so;” while liberals and Progressives will be pressuring candidates to come up with better solutions to healthcare that eliminate the profit motive.

The Affordable Care Act, while a distinct improvement over what came before it, is no substitute for what would have been the simplest and least expensive solution: to expand Medicare for everyone. This is what residents of virtually every other industrialized nation take for granted – but because too many of our lawmakers are little more than pushers for corporate interests, the wealthiest nation on the planet still refuses to guarantee the same fundamental right to low- or no-cost medical care.

It bears mentioning that Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate that has ever advocated Medicare for all. Keep in mind that under the ACA, private insurers can still spend up to 20% of their revenues on “overhead.” By way of contrast, Medicare spends only 3%.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.